Chemical tank cleaning causes rotten odor in downtown Columbus

A rotten smell in the downtown area apparently came from a chemical storage tank at Omega Partners near the Columbus Civic Center, a city official said Tuesday.

Larry Wright, manager of operations at Omega Partners, said workers were cleaning a tank with turpentine.

"It was a little bit more smell today than normal when we were cleaning the tank," he said.

The tank cleaning was complete just after 1 p.m. and the smell should have cleared up, Wright said. He described the smell as a lighter version of what you have at the MeadWestvaco paper mill in Cottonton, Ala.

At least three calls came into the Columbus Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services shortly after downtown residents smelled what was described as rotten eggs or sulfur, said Fire Marshal Ricky Shores.

Workers with the Columbus Water Works detected the smell while at the Water Resources Facility along Lumpkin Boulevard.

"It seems to be emanating from the state docks tanks that are located down there," said Lynn Campbell, vice president of water resources operations at the Water Works.

Campbell said combined sewer overflow operators detected the smell at about 11 a.m. The Water Works is not connected to the chemical storage tanks, but does operate pumping stations on each side of the area known as the tank farm. The facility is located between the Civic Center and the Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, across from the South Commons softball complex.

During heavy rain, the pumping station near the Civic Center pumps sewage to the other side.

"We have operators down there and they detected an odor," Campbell said. "We are not on line. There is nothing coming from us."

Shores said the chemical poses no health risk unless it's used in fully concentrated amounts.

"It's going to evaporate especially on a day like today," he said. "I wouldn't think it would pose an undue health risk."

Turpentine is used to clean walls of the tank. The weather may have been a factor with winds blowing out of the southwest Tuesday morning. "That would drag it and push it across downtown," Shores said of the wind.

The chemical evaporates quicker when the sun is up. "It depends on weather conditions," he said. "It just had to do with humidity and cloud cover."

Shores described the smell as similar to a gas leak, one that hangs around longer when it's cloudy.

Wright couldn't say when the company will clean a tank again. "This is not something that happens too often," he said.